Monday, January 25, 2010

Part of my vacation was by train: the 143, Hartford to Newark

It was a spectacular trip - I boarded at Hartford in darkness - it's a sibling handoff: my oldest son dropping me off so my youngest son can pick me up three states away - and as the sun comes up along the route, I watch the world unfold.
It is like looking under someone's kitchen sink or in a basement closet - this is not the pretty front door that towns show the world.
This is empty warehouses, smiling like toothless men because their windowpanes are missing.
This is junkyards and backyards,
A firetruck graveyard,
Bars on back windows and smokestacks and everything dressed in graffiti: initials, skulls and numbers.
Along the way, as the rails clack and the car sways, there are little glimpses of order:
tidy backyards with now dormant gardens, silent swingsets and small piles of dirty snow.

We stop at the stations: Meriden, Wallingford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Stamford and eventually, New York, and the conducter comes along through each car and announces the stops, just like in every movie you ever saw.

We pass tenements and electrical grids.
There are little swamps with ducks in clusters.
Billboards and litter, litter, litter everywhere - pressed against fences, tangled in webs of lovely orange bittersweet.

It's like each town we pass through has its dirty little secrets, its nastiness, its ooze and slime, and all the secrets are hidden down by the railroad tracks all mixed in with the architecture of the past: fine craftsmanship, impeccable masonry, glorious arched windows.

But it has all be abandoned. Rejected and replaced with cold, utilitarian metal boxes surrounded by parking lots surrounded by razor wire in the suburbs.

In New Haven, the 143 switches from a diesel to an electric engine. I noticed no difference when we start up again.
For a while, then, I95 keeps us company. We pass the Duchess Diner, Desi's Corner and Mario's Place. There goes Wally's Liquors and the Connecticut Food Bank. We click-clack past Eppy Computers, and the Greater Love Temple.
Most of the buildings have so long ago turned their backs on the railroad tracks that they have no signs indicating what they are or were.
We pass the Bonton Fish Market and at a Friehofer bakery, at least 200 tractor trailer trucks are lined up to deliver white bread for breakfast toast.
There are acres of metal drums and a surprising number of cemeteries. Do we think the sound of the trains soothes our dead?
There are squatters - shanty huts in the woods with blue plastic tarps for roofs and laundry frozen on makeshift clotheslines.
We keep clacking, past Firestone Tires and Learn-To-Dive with Captain Sam.

Then, between New Haven and New York, there's a surprise: dozens of large new condominiums and a small pine forest. An Audi dealership. But as quickly as it appears, it is gone as New York City approaches and the debris returns.

New York City doesn't loom from a distance, like spotting the Emerald City from the Yellow Brick Road. It just appears, slamming you in the face with its hugeness, its boldness, its raw presence. And boy, Toto, we sure aren't in Kansas. It's a landscape of buildings - like rows of corn in the midwest, buildings are the crop here. There is no end - they stretch forever.

One last stop: Penn Station in Newark and Russ telephones and tells me to look for him downstairs by the benches "that look like pews.'' He spots me first and enfolds me. I am crying since it has been so long since I've seen him, my baby. He feels like Russell should feel. He smells like Russell should smell. And even though I am a bazillion miles away from rural Maine, I feel so at home wrapped in his arms.


robinbeth said...

OK, Is this a new habit with you, making women cry? LOL Nice description of your ride, I felt I was right there on the train with looking out the window!

Lili said...

Oh my goodness that last part made me well up. And you described perfectly my 18 hour trip on Amtrak that I took when I was just 22. And never again did I ever do that.